The Velvet Underground didn’t sell an enormous number of records; but, as the saying goes, everyone who heard them started a band.
This isn’t quite true — I haven’t quite worn out White Light/White Heat yet, and I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a stage — but I knew, even then, that I was always going to pay attention to Lou Reed, even when I couldn’t tell what the heck he was doing at any given moment; the man was simply Out There, and “There” sometimes wasn’t even on the map.
Still, Reed live on stage was something to behold, sometimes a man on fire, sometimes a man on Quaaludes, but always interesting. For an example of the former, see his 1974 (actually recorded the week before Christmas 1973) live set at the Academy of Music (on the Rock N Roll Animal LP), in which “Sweet Jane” turns into an outright anthem.
And what amazed me is that no matter what he did — Metal Machine Music, directing a video for a Susan Boyle (!) cover of “Perfect Day,” singing backup on a Metric single — he never managed to make himself appear irrelevant.
Reed walked to the quiet side yesterday at seventy-one; you may be sure that rock and roll heaven has no idea what to make of him, but they’ll adjust. We always did.